Saturday, January 10, 2015

Toyota trial begins over fatal 2006 crash in St. Paul

Toyota trial begins over fatal 2006 crash in St. Paul

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 8, 2015 - 11:01 PM
Judge instructs jury not to consider Koua Fong Lee’s prison term or Toyota’s recalls because of sudden acceleration.
Emotions were raw in a federal courtroom Thursday as a lawsuit against Toyota over a 2006 crash that caused the deaths of three people and the imprisonment of a St. Paul man went to trial.
“My car would not stop,” testified Koua Fong Lee in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. His voice choking, he described how his 1996 Toyota Camry slammed into another car, and a few minutes later, seeing lifeless people being pulled from the other vehicle and sheets put over them.
“I think of the white sheets and the bodies,” he said. “It makes my heart break and I am scared. … ”
The suit against Toyota claims the brakes on Lee’s 1996 car failed and the car accelerated, crashing into the rear of the victims’ Oldsmobile Ciera. Lee spent more than 2½ years in prison after being convicted of criminal vehicular homicide.
Driver error, not Toyota, was responsible for the crash, the automaker’s attorney said.
“This was a tragedy,” Bard Borkon said in his opening statement. “There is a lot of suffering that these families had to endure.”
But, he said, “the evidence is going to show that this crash is not Toyota’s fault.”
In his testimony, Lee, 37, described returning home from church to drop off family members. He pulled off eastbound Interstate 94 at Snelling Avenue and saw cars ahead of him at the top of the exit ramp.
“I took my foot off the gas and pushed the brakes and nothing happened,” he said. “Brakes not working,” he said he told his wife, Panghoua Moua. “Brakes not working.”
At the noon recess, Jassmine Adams, 21, a survivor of the crash who sustained multiple fractures,
burst into tears after her attorney, Anne Brockland, completed her opening statements. Brockland told the jury how Adams, then 12, awoke in the back seat of her father’s 1995 Oldsmobile after it was struck by Lee’s Toyota.
Adams saw her brother slumped over dead and her father smashed against the steering wheel, said Brockland. A cousin Devyn, who died later, was unresponsive.
Adams will have a lifelong imprint of that memory, said Brockland. After the jury was excused, Brockland hugged Adams and cried herself.
Lee’s attorney, Bob Hilliard, said that tests of Lee’s Camry showed that the brakes were applied. He said expert testimony will show that two plastic resin pulleys under the hood that operate the accelerator overheated and got stuck.
Arguing for Toyota, Borkon said the car Lee drove worked perfectly for 177,000 miles. He said that when Lee took the off-ramp he was “startled” by many cars in front of him and stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake.
He said the brakes worked fine when tested two days after the accident.
No prison or recalls
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery instructed jurors not to consider Lee’s conviction or incarceration in weighing the issues in the case, nor should they consider the 2010 decision by the Ramsey County attorney to drop charges, setting Lee free.

Jurors also are not to consider Toyota’s various recalls in connection with sudden acceleration of vehicles, Montgomery said.

Two other people who claim they experienced “substantially similar unintended acceleration” in their Toyotas are expected to testify Friday.
The trial may last four weeks. A jury of eight men and six women was chosen on Wednesday. Two will become alternates when deliberations begin.
The outcome of the trial could have major national impact.
“It’s a big deal,” says Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, and the co-author of a book on sudden vehicle acceleration.
“It’s going right at the issue of blaming the driver,” said Ditlow. A victory for Lee and the other plaintiffs, he said, would be “a huge blow to Toyota.”
Lee was driving his pregnant wife, their 4-year-old daughter, his father and brother home from their Minneapolis church on June 10, 2006, when he exited Interstate 94. As his Camry accelerated, he sideswiped one car before hitting the Ciera.
Experts said Lee’s car was traveling between 76 and 91 miles per hour when it struck the Ciera, killing its driver, Javis Trice-Adams, 33, and his 9-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr. Trice-Adams’ niece Devyn Bolton, 7, was paralyzed and died 16 months later.
The three who died were “complete innocents,” said attorney Bill Markovits, who is representing the Trice-Adams family. “We ask you to hold Toyota fully liable,” he said.
Lee was sentenced in January 2008 to eight years in prison. After Toyota conducted a massive recall, due partly to sudden acceleration, Lee’s attorneys sought a new trial. Although Lee’s Camry was not among the models recalled, his attorneys said they would produce 11 drivers who said they had experienced sudden acceleration in older model Toyotas. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner dismissed the charges against Lee instead, setting him free.
No damages for prison
Lee joined the families of the other victims in the lawsuit. He and his family members are seeking damages for “severe emotional distress” because of the crash.
In 2011, Judge Montgomery said Lee could not seek damages for his incarceration.
She ruled there were other factors that led to his conviction, including “many independent actions” and decisions by the Ramsey County attorney, Lee’s criminal defense attorney, the jury and the sentencing judge among others.
“All these factors combined to result in Lee’s wrongful conviction and incarceration,” she wrote, so Toyota’s role could not be ruled “a substantial factor.”
Starting in 2009, Toyota began recalling vehicles for sudden unintended acceleration, and the numbers have surpassed 8 million. It has paid out at least $34 million in federal fines and faced hundreds of claims and lawsuits. Toyota last March agreed to pay a $1.2 billion penalty in settling a criminal investigation by the Justice Department in connection with sudden acceleration.
Toyota indicated in court documents that it will show that none of the incidents to be presented by Lee and the other plaintiffs are substantially similar to the 2006 crash.
The Star Tribune has employed its own censorship in the past:
The comments are worth reading both because of their misinformation by TOYOTA defenders, many of whom may be PAID TOYOTA SHILLS  and the factual information.
The railroading of Koua Fong Lee continues, with Koua now hamstrung by not being allowed to seek punitive damages (if anyone ever deserved punitive damages, it's Koua Fong Lee), not being allowed to argue that Toyota - the Coverup King of the automotive industry - covered up a defect, and the jury should most certainly be allowed to consider Toyota's never-ending recalls for sudden unintended acceleration, along with the Coverup King's guilty plea to a Federal fraud charge for concealing information about its runaway vehicles. As for the jury hearing about the horrors of Koua's incarceration, it's way past time to hold automakers - in this case an admitted crook - accountable for the aftermath when folks are victimized by defective vehicles. Compensation for Koua's imprisonment should be assigned to Toyota - not taxpayers.

I learned my lesson about Toyota when the engine disintegrated in my MR2 Spyder. Manufacturing defect, all over the Internet for years, owners generally losing about $8,500, and Toyota continues to stonewall. I've been blogging about numerous aspects of the "Toyota Way" for quite some time - search "Beware of Toyota. Their next victim may be YOU..."

What did he do wrong? What was his error? Why was he sent to jail?

Maybe because he is not white!

@minn12, My proof was when my 2009 Tundra suddenly accelerated and while the brakes did help it hold it back some, it was too late to prevent a crash into the side of office building I was pulling up to. So, while you have some good points about the specific case here, you really have to come to terms there was a reason Toyota did recall over 4 million vehicles and settle a 1+ billion dollar lawsuit. There was evidence their vehicles had a mechanical design flaw that could cause unintended sudden acceleration.

No, he would need the ELECTRONICS examined, not the mechanics since his vehicle is an ALL electronic throttle control one. We know that during investigations into bizarre unintended acceleration crash cases that the electronics are not adequately investigated. For some reason, investigators act like it's 1965 and there a cable still attached to the accelerator pedal! Glitches happen in these ALL electronic vehicles. Unfortunately, lack of strict safety standards has allowed Toyota's flawed throttle control software to initiate uncommanded acceleration with inadequate fail-safes against it! See Bookout v Toyota case in Oklahoma where verdict was found in favor of the 2005 Camry owner in October 2013. Koua Fong Lee's case is not related to these all electronic throttle control glitches, however it is related to poor quality control and lack of adequate oversight of testing of all materials used during the design process

@minn12 Sudden unintended acceleration was prove in the case of Bookout vs Toyota October of 2013 in Oklahoma where Toyota lost and went into settlement mode.

Sudden Unintended Acceleration is real, it happened to me in 2005. I had purchased a brand new 2004 ES 330 Lexus while sitting at the red light my car took off like a rocket going through the red light. By the time I realized what was happening my car
was going over 100 miles an hour and I realized that I did not have brake and I
could hear the accelerator revving. All I was able to do hold on to the wheel
trying to avoid hitting anyone. what eventually happen I end up going over the median and the other side of the street hitting a SUV head on totaling both cars. The dashboard fell on my legs and crushed both legs severely. The SUV driver had some minor damages. As the result of my Lexus suddenly accelerating, I have had 24 surgeries and more in future. My left leg will have to be amputated above the knee since surgery can not do any good anymore and my right ankle will have to be fused since I am in sever pain. I had been driving for over 20 years with a excellent driving record and I was not old, I did not have any medical condition, I was texting since Toyota is in the habit of blaming drivers with every possible issue can come up with. SUA IS VERY ALIVE AND IT IS HAPPENING AND IT IS NOT DRIVER'S FAULT.

Lee joined the families of the other victims in the federal lawsuit, but in 2011, Judge Montgomery said Lee could not seek damages for his incarceration. She ruled there were other factors not related to the Camry that led to his conviction, including “many independent actions and decisions by the Ramsey County attorney, Lee’s ineffective criminal defense attorney, the jury, and the sentencing judge among others.

Who is this Judge Montgomery? I'd say the Camry is the "A NUMBER 1" reason for his incarceration!

King Solomon would be unhappy with Judge Montgomery.

@jafblumpkin - "Hilliard said expert testimony will show that two plastic resin pulleys under the hood that operate the accelerator overheated and became stuck. They were situated only 10 inches from a part of the engine that reaches a temperature of 1,000 degrees.
He said that a Japanese engineer who designed the mechanism for Toyota testified in a deposition that the pulley mechanism was only tested to 248 degrees before it was put on the market and pulleys made of plastic resin were not involved in the test." Clearly, Toyota released a poorly-designed and inadequately-tested product. Seems to me the anti-Toyota sentiment was correct, and the Terminatrix had nothing to do with it.

Total speculation...the kind Toyota uses to incriminate a driver without a shred of evidence! Gee...he must have "hit the gas instead of the brakes." Interestingly, now with the ALL electronic throttle control systems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles this same "driver error" is claimed by Toyota/Lexus! That's right...even though electronic glitches have been shown within the ETCS-i, Toyota tells customers that they hit the wrong pedal...what NHTSA refers to as "pedal confusion."

Give us all a break! Electronic throttle control glitches occur because the software in the systems is not properly regulated within strict safety standards. Don't most all electronic devices have issues? That's fine as long as the FAIL-SAFES are adequate enough to prevent a catastrophe! Unfortunately in Toyota's case, it appears there the fail-safes often fail as well due to the "kitchen sink" nature of the throttle control system software. See Michael Barr and Dr. Antony Anderson's scientific findings.

Koua Fong Lee's case is different as we all know. That doesn't mean that Toyota's poor quality control and/or faulty design process didn't result in the bizarre unintended acceleration event.

Unfortunately, Toyota has historically refused to acknowledge its vehicle faults. It,never owned up to the its vehicle defects contributing to engine oil sludge either. That's another whole issue but one that remains unresolved and buried under the umbrella of "vehicle owner maintenance neglect," according to Toyota. Toyota spokespersons Mike Michels and John Hansen maintained that Toyota never saw "a single case of engine oil sludge in a properly maintained vehicle." Rest assured, these claims are false. Plenty of vehicle owners...untold numbers but thousands by count on an online petition I started in 2003 well after all the Toyota voluntary programs and class action lawsuit in the matter. Toyota claimed that only 3200 or so vehicles were affected. Not sure how they ALL managed to locate my petition as the count there was over that number when deleted all its petitions in August of this year.

Point is, Toyota has NOT been truthful. It has admitted this and now has a deferred prosecution agreement following its criminal investigation into the sudden unintended acceleration. The claim that these cases, along with those similar to the Koua Fong Lee's case, are all the result of "driver error" is just as ludicrous as the claim that all engine oil sludge cases were the result of "owner maintenance neglect." The chances of so many cases of Toyota SUA being caused by "driver error" are statistically an IMPOSSIBILITY!

TOYOTA paid $1.2 BILLION because they LIED!